As with just about every sport, horse racing has all but disappeared in this year of the Great Pandemic. Meetings have been canceled, the Kentucky Derby re-scheduled for next fall, and we have little notion as to when racing may return in front of live, on-site audiences. But life goes on, and so too will the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award, now in its 14th year of honoring the best long-form writing about an ancient and noble sport.
Since its inception by the late Dr. Ryan in 2006, submissions have come from around the globe to compete for a $10,000 winner’s prize that continues to grow in stature with each passing year. Authors have included winners of the National Book Award, Eclipse Award, Faulkner Society Award, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and an Emmy nominee.
Winners have traditionally been announced each April at a reception held in the historic stallion barn at the Ryan family’s Castleton Lyons farm near Lexington, Kentucky. This year will be different due to the broad reach of Covid-19; the springtime celebration honoring the winner and finalists has been postponed for now, with plans to reschedule as a possibly scaled-back event in the fall.
In the meantime, the racing and reading public may avail themselves of a group of exceptionally strong, eclectic titles submitted for the 2019 competition. Each of these 15 books is currently available for online purchase for anyone in need of a racing fix. They include masterful works of fiction and non-fiction, mysteries and romance, memoirs—both horse and human—personal storytelling, history, handicapping, and how-to. And each can be recommended here as both a great read and a cathartic balm to the soul in strange and unsettling times.
"If you miss racing, as we do, the next best thing might be to shelter at home with one of these books," says lead judge Kay Coyte, former Washington Post and racing publications editor. “These 15 titles represent what I love most about the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award-Castleton Lyons—and the trying task of deciding on a short list of finalists. All are excellent examples of their genre within horse racing literature, and all are winners.”
“What great luck that in a year when we are staying at home, we have 15 new books centered around Thoroughbred Horse Racing to keep us entertained and informed,” added judge Caton Bredar, a TVG reporter/handicapper and winner of the Jim McKay Award for broadcast journalism. “While diverse in genre and style, each entry this year is a fun and interesting read, and a worthwhile addition to anyone’s bookshelf. “
Jayne Moore Waldrop, writer, attorney and current judge, said “At a time of social distancing, this year’s entries make an excellent book list for all readers, especially people missing sports right now. The list is rich with multiple genres represented, including fiction, nonfiction, biography, and memoir from around the world.”
Semi-finalists will be reported in coming weeks via press release and online at and on the Dr. Tony Ryan-Castleton Lyons Facebook page. The three finalists will be unveiled sometime this summer
Below is a list of current entries, each published in the 2019 calendar year, arranged alphabetically by title and with online links. For additional information contact Betsy Hager .
Backstretch Girls, by Dawn LeFevre
Better Lucky Than Good: Tall Tales and Straight Talk from the Backside of the Track, by various authors, from Louisville Story Program
Blood in the Bluegrass, by D.C. Alexander
Blood in the Bluegrass, by Virginia Slachman
The Hidden Horses of New York, by Natalie Reinert
Justify, by Lenny Shulman
Kentucky Horse Tales, by Ercel Ellis Jr.
The Key to the Quarter Pole, by Robin Traywick Williams
Montana Horse Racing: A History, by Brenda Wahler
Racing Time: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Liberation, by Patrick Smithwick
Sir Barton and the Making of the Triple Crown, by Jennifer S. Kelly
The Skeptical Handicapper: Using Data and Brains to Win at the Racetrack, by Barry Meadow
Spectacular Bid: The Last Superhorse of the Twentieth Century, by Peter Lee
The Travers: 150 Years of Saratoga's Greatest Race, by Brien Bouyea & Michael Veitch
The Triumph of Henry Cecil, by Tony Rushmer